[This is the first time I've posted a "rerun." It's a post that is both a personal favorite, and is the closest I come to having a positive memory about September 11th, 2001.]
Those who know me know that I’m not a morning person. Getting up early is something I’ve avoided most of my life, dating back to when had to get up at 5AM to deliver the Chicago Tribune. I’m not proud of the fact that I have a reputation for avoiding early meetings and rolling into the office sometime a little after 9:30. So it was not unusual that on September 11th six years ago, I didn’t get out of bed until after Tom was gone and his clock radio had already turned itself off.
That particular morning, I ambled into the kitchen in search of coffee and then went to fetch the paper from the front porch. It was a beautiful day in Chicago, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. For whatever reason, I didn’t turn on the radio in the den as I read the paper. It wasn’t until around 8:30 when I returned to the kitchen for a refill that I first became aware something was not right.
Tom had left the kitchen radio tuned to the classical station. They didn’t really do news, just weather and a little bit of headlines. So it stopped me when the announcer, one of those dignified and measured voices, told his listeners that, “a plane… no, two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.” I remember the wording so clearly. While still retaining that classical music guy voice, that there was something very wrong was unmistakable.
I got my coffee and went back to the den to turn on CNN. The images, as we all know, were both horrifying and riveting. I was dumbfounded. Instead of sitting in one of the comfy club chairs across the small room, I dragged the ottoman right up to the TV. Maybe I thought if I sat closer to the screen I would understand better what the hell was happening. The images went back and forth from a live shot to the loop of the second aircraft’s impact. Memory of what the anchors were saying, as well as what I was muttering, is a little murky now. But what I remember so well was how I was not alone. A trusted and loyal friend sensed I was upset, that something was wrong and I needed support. So at some point, as I sat hunched in front to the television, Shadow came up and sat by my side.
Shadow was the older of our two Newfoundland dogs, our “dog in charge,” as I called her. She was an imposing figure, a presence that could not be ignored. But in this circumstance, she sat silently by my side. That’s what Newfoundlands do. The breed is known for this strong, silent self-assuredness. Their way of moderating a situation is to quietly but firmly insert themselves into the middle of what is going on.
For an unknown number of minutes, I sat there with my arm around her, rocking back and forth. “Oh, Shadow. This is bad. This is really bad. Oh, man, Shadow.” Eventually, she got up and stood in the narrow space between the television and me. I’m not sure, but I think she was telling me we had seen enough.
We all can say where we were and what we were doing as the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded. I went on to prepare for work, check in with Tom, and try to reach a good friend whose partner worked in lower Manhattan. Seemingly oblivious to the possibility of a much wider threat, I drove to work only to be waved off by building security. I went to our friend’s place to sit with Evan while he tried to make contact with John, who was finally able to get a text message out that he was OK and heading uptown to stay with friends. Other friends came by and we walked through the Lincoln Park neighborhood to look for a place to eat. Store after store, even Starbucks, were closed. The one open restaurant was overwhelmed. Fighter jets flew overhead.
The world had, indeed, changed.
As time slips by, and the powerful mix of emotions is given perspective, the memories of that day remain strong. Shadow’s gone now; she died in February. But today as we all reflect in our own way about the horrors of 9/11, the memory that brings me the most comfort is of that intuitive action of a loyal and unconditionally loving friend. Is this odd: That among all the jagged and abrasive images and feelings I have of that day, the one that comes up first is the comfort provided by a dog?
I don’t think so.